5 Rules for a Water-Wise Landscape

national lawn care month

Water-wise landscaping is designing outdoor spaces to minimize irrigation needs while also creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape. Also known as xeriscaping, this eco-friendly practice offers benefits including reducing the environmental impact of human landscapes, lowering water bills for homeowners, and improving the aesthetic appeal of homes, businesses, and public spaces.

Xeriscaping got its start in drought-stricken areas where lawns are impractical. Maintaining turfgrass in hot, dry heat requires massive amounts of water, driving up bills for homeowners and threatening the regional water supply. In response, communities turned to xeriscape to conserve water without sacrificing the beauty of the natural environment. However, the same principles can be applied in any climate — and it doesn’t have to mean giving up your lawn. You can create a beautiful, water-wise landscape by following just a few rules:

  1. Know Your Needs

How do you intend to use your landscape? If you’re an older couple, perhaps you’re looking for a well-designed landscape where you can get your gloves dirty in the garden and enjoy a cup of coffee on the patio. But if you’re a family with kids, you may want open spaces and a patio with clear lines of sight. Your needs will influence the overall design of your home landscape.

  1. Work with Your Landscape

Designing a landscape that doesn’t suit your land and climate is setting yourself up for an uphill battle. Make use of natural features like slopes and low points to minimize irrigation needs by clustering plantings around naturally wet zones. Consider the way man-made structures impact water flow as well; you may be able to redirect runoff from a downspout or patio toward garden beds.

  1. Rethink the Lawn

Not everyone needs or wants a large expanse of lawn. And even if you do, there’s a good chance you’re not using all of the space. Most people keep activities to one area of lawn, while areas along homes, fences, driveways, and patios receive little to no foot traffic. If you want to reduce your landscape’s water impact without giving up the lawn completely, these marginal areas are a perfect place to start.

  1. Don’t Waste Water

Overwatering your lawn and landscape isn’t just wasteful, it’s also bad for plant health. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, overwatering causes roots to decay and makes plants more susceptible to fungal disease. However, that’s not the only way to waste water outdoors.

How you irrigate matters. Sprinklers are less efficient than drip irrigation because they water everything in their reach, including weeds. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the planting area and nowhere else. Using sprinklers also increases water loss due to evaporation, although this can be avoided with early morning or late evening waterings.

Drip irrigation can be hidden by burying it under mulch. This is not only more attractive, but mulch also helps retain moisture to further reduce irrigation needs. It’s also important to improve soil over time; healthy, rich soils hold water better than poor soils.

  1. Go Native

Finally, choose plants that thrive with natural rainfall. Consider both the amount of rain and when it falls. Rainfall that’s dispersed throughout the growing season is easier to work with than rainfall that’s concentrated in one season.

The simplest way to choose water-wise plants is by purchasing native plants. Since native plants are adapted to your specific region, they’ll grow with minimal fuss. Regardless of where your plants are from, be sure to hydrozone them. As eXtension explains, hydrozoning is grouping plants together based on water needs. Set irrigation controls accordingly, so low-water plants are watering less frequently than high-water plants.

Water-wise landscaping is great for the environment and it’s also a great way to stand out in a sea of lawns. However, creating a gorgeous xeriscape isn’t just a matter of putting plants in the ground. If fine-tuning an irrigation system and constructing hardscapes is out of your DIY wheelhouse, let the pros step in to ensure your landscape lives up to your vision.

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